Over 40 years ago, the idea behind the Seed Savers Exchange, now located just outside of Decorah, started coming into focus. A few insightful conservationists had the foresight to think about the need to preserve, store, regenerate, and study our important and rare seed genetics.
Today, the Seed Savers Exchange is the largest seed exchange of its kind in the world. Their mission, according to their website, is "to conserve and promote America’s culturally diverse but endangered garden and food crop heritage for future generations by collecting, growing, and sharing heirloom seeds and plants.
I would highly encourage you to check out their website to read more about the operation as well as to read about their story and history. There is even a short video, too.
On a recent Saturday, a buddy and I spent an hour or so exploring and wandering the expansive grounds of the Seed Savers Exchange and Heritage Farm. Not long after we departed the site, a powerful summer thunderstorm rolled into town bringing significant rainfall and gusty winds. However, we managed to fit in a full day in Decorah as we also checked out many of the hot spots, including Luther College, the farmers' market, the downtown, Mabe's Pizza, Magpie's Coffeehouse, the Ice Cave, Dunnings' Spring Park, the Fish Hatchery, the location of the famous Raptor Resource Project eagle cams, and both Pulpit Rock and Toppling Goliath Breweries.
There is some road construction on the road that takes you to Seed Savers but don't let any possible construction signs derail your visit. You can get there. After parking in their ample parking space area, stop in to their beautiful visitor center, get a map, and check out the significant selection of seeds and other merchandise.
If you are into gardening, this is a great place to visit. The quantity of seeds for sale is significant.
There are plenty of other garden-centric products available too.
There are nearly 900 acres to explore. Some of it can be done by car and some of it is best to be done by foot. There are several gardens which are essentially "laboratories" where they are testing the seeds and studying what grows to understand their genetics and value.
Several of the garden plots are behind big fences. However, that's not to keep the humans out - it's to keep the animals out. Humans are encouraged to go into the gardens and wander and look at the various plants and read about them on the accompanying signs.
A few heritage-breed animals are also on the farm. My friend and I walked up to an area where some ancient White Park Cattle were resting to get out of the extreme heat.
There are even a few paintings of the White Park done by local artist Valerie Miller on the premises. Valerie is notable for her "Steel Cow" series, which are popular.
But it's not just cows. There are some heritage-breed birds too.
These birds are near the historic barn that is often used for events. Seed Savers Exchange hosts a number of events and workshops throughout the year. The events page on their Facebook profile has a lot of great information.
There's a nice ramp system that easily gets you up to the 2nd level of the barn. I guess you could call it "the hay loft/mow".
It's a beautiful old barn.
You can take a bit of a walk and enjoy the spring-fed trout stream that runs through the property. It is absolutely beautiful and very peaceful.
There are also a few walking or hiking paths. One that we got on lead us to an overlook with some nice views.
There are a number of other facilities on the grounds including some high tunnels.
The kind ladies working in the visitor center told us to go check out the seed vault. Here's a blog post from 2016 about what's in the vault.
This is just an absolutely beautiful place to visit and enjoy the great outdoors. You can probably even have a picnic.
Less than a mile up the road is an entrance to the historic orchard, which is also part of the property. My friend and I made a quick visit because it was about to downpour on us.
There is a gate you can enter through in order to be among the trees. It would have been enjoyable to spend more time exploring but Mother Nature had other ideas.
There's a small building on the property.
They even have a fair amount of grape vines.
This was an amazing visit and I really believe no adventure to Decorah is complete without spending a little time at Seed Savers Exchange. I would encourage you to spend a little more time exploring their website and Facebook page to learn more as they obviously have a lot more content and information on there. You can even learn about becoming a member and the perks associated with that.
As always, I welcome your suggestions on other places to visit and profile whether in Winneshiek County or any of the other 98 counties. If you have a good idea or would like to host the Iowa Adventurer, please drop me a note today.